Workplace Bullying: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

By Diwata Thomas and Jessica Meeker

Florida State University

Master's in Public Administration and Policy

03-25-2022



Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  • Problem Statement

  • Literature Review

  • Analysis of Workplace Bullying

  • Conclusion

  • Bibliography

Introduction


Workplace bullying can be referred to as mobbing, psychological terror, workplace harassment, and emotional abuse (Akella, 2020). Bullying consists of a type of repeated and persistent negative action that is directed towards one or more individuals in the workplace with the intent to hurt, intimidate and humiliate. The significance of workplace bullying is that individuals evolve the desire to hurt become aggressors and oppress a victim through constant abuse, offensive remarks, ridicule, and meticulous criticism. Negative consequences will arise from workplace bullying by the aggressor and the victim of workplace abuse. Workplace bullying is legally prohibited within the Florida Department of Environmental Protections through legal protections and can be punished by human resource management.

Problem Statement

The organization we are examining is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The topic analyzed in this report is bullying in the workplace, and it could negatively impact work morale, employee retention, and employee recognition. The tentative solution involves integrating a repercussion system and writing a new code of conduct. This additionally involves updating the grievance process, in which employees file complaints against the offender.



Literature Review

Workplace bullying results in employee turnover, absenteeism, higher stress levels, workplace injuries and illnesses (Akella, 2020). Issues with workplace bullying are the lack of management punishment and a dismissive attitude towards employee grievance or notice to a supervisor. Unfortunately, managers can often accept an unequal quotient of power and hierarchy between employees and management as a type of political strategy to achieve organizational goals and objectives. Managers may use a unique type of reprimand system that can be portrayed as workplace bullying to get things done by their subordinates. However, manager influences and control over employees must have a bold directive attuned to the organization and not the affiliated personal attaches, harassment, intimidation, and fear of gaining an advantage over other employee's responsibilities. Exposure to bullying in the workplace is associated with reduced health and well-being, individual, unit and organizational outcomes related to performance and productivity, negative outcomes for patient case, increased absenteeism, increased turnover intentions and reduced job satisfaction and engagement (Sheehan, et al., 2020).

Bullying is typically characterized as continuous harassment that involves criticism and humiliation (Gardner & Johnson, 2001). This also includes racial/ethnic bullying behaviors, such as racial slurs or employee exclusion from activities (Fox and Stallworth, 2006). Additionally, there is typically an imbalance of power, making it difficult for victims to defend themselves (Cowie et al., 2002).  Workplace bullying may be displayed in a variety of diverse ways, with all having a significant impact on the affected employee. As noted by Gardner & Johnson (2001), the primary acts of workplace bullying include the following: speaking about an employee behind his or her back, constantly interrupting an employee while they are working or talking, acting condescending, or displaying authority over an employee, belittling opinions, purposefully ignoring phone calls and emails, insulting, and shouting at an employee, sexual harassment, negative forms of eye contact, and display false praise. These primary acts, in addition to other workplace bullying behaviors, can typically be grouped into the following types: threat to professional status, threat to personal standing, isolation, overwork, and destabilization (Cowie et al., 2002). Workplace bullying affects approximately 42 percent of employees at some point in their careers (Gardner & Johnson, 2001). Additionally, approximately 90 percent of workers suffer from bullying from their superiors during their careers, as managers with underdeveloped people skills are typically responsible for this type of behavior, resulting from their own insecurities (Gardner & Johnson, 2001).  There is an overall lack of policies against workplace bullying and a wide acceptance of inappropriate management styles. Spurred by these two aspects, a review of workplace bullying litigation cases resulted in some of the following findings: the majority of cases studied in the review occurred in the public sector (at approximately 67 percent); within the cases, 73.3 percent involved persistent and repeated bullying to one or more employees; their studies resulted in finding stress (53.3 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder (4.4 percent) present in victims; and managers were the aggressors in 55.6 percent of the cases  (LaVan & Martin, 2010). Workplace bullying can be measured by studies in a variety of different methods to determine aspects such as psychological and physiological impact, organizational culture, and population impacted. The following are different methods in measuring workplace bullying: focusing on inside perspectives, which involves questionnaires, surveys, self-reporting, focus groups, and critical incident technique; focusing on outside perspectives, which includes observational methods and peer reporting; and a multimodal approach, which integrates both outside and inside perspectives and utilizes measures from both (Cowie et al., 2002). Additionally, within the context of workplace bullying is cyberbullying, which has emerged with the increase in technology utilized in the workplace. Noted by Piotrowski (2021), many employees feel they are vulnerable to cyber abuse from their colleagues, and there have been multiple sexual harassment lawsuits in the workplace stemming from inappropriate emails or Internet use. 



Analysis of Workplace Bullying

Training Program Improving the training systems within the organization would be beneficial in serving as a preventative measure in workplace bullying. This would aid in remedying the issue, prior to the occurrence of the problem. The types of training that would be most helpful to implement are as follows. Stress management training should be utilized, as it would help employers whether they experience bullying or not (LaVan & Martin, 2010). This includes continuous developmental training for all employees, that teaches employees how to correctly handle and manage stressors. A fairly high proportion of employees are stressed at work, regardless of its job related or personal in nature, which may be a precursor for bullying (LaVan & Martin, 2010). This could lead to the assumption that employees with greater stress engage in more workplace bullying (LaVan & Martin, 2010).

Additionally, beneficial would-be assertiveness training, to aid victimized individuals in standing up for themselves when faced with a bully in the workplace. This would also be a continual training, rather than a one time training, that aids in teaching employees' behavioral skills to carry themselves at work and in response to conflict inducing environments (LaVan & Martin, 2010). There should also be a trained, confidential supporter (or mediator) that should be trained in the acts and impacts of workplace bullying. Having a workplace bullying designee to address these issues would ensure there is a confidential mediator that is trained on the issue. Training this individual should entail the following aspects: identifying the consequences of bullying, including behaviors victims may exhibit, to reduce the occurrence of victim blaming; outlining supportive actions the confidential supporter should exhibit, such as active listening, accepting the story as true, emotional space, and ongoing support; and intervention strategies, including setting a norm for bullying behaviors such as repercussions for continued bullying behavior (Tehrani, 2012). This confidential supporter is tasked with the duty of secrecy, which is something that may not be granted if the employees confide in a supervisor, or someone else in an executive role (Tehrani, 2012). Excluded from the task of secrecy includes very serious crimes committed or notions of self-imposed harm. Human resource professionals should additionally be trained in record keeping methods they should be keeping of workplace bullying cases (Tehrani, 2012). Necessary personnel, such as the human resource professionals and confidential supporters, should additionally be trained on the potential risks of interventions so they may aptly react and re-navigate mediation techniques in the event of a negative reaction. Key instances where a negative reaction may occur, and should be noted in the training process, are as follows: when the victim is more emotional about the situation; when the mediator acts on impulse, rather than offering comfort in a difficult situation; the bullying target is not listened to on how their professional environment will be impacted in the face of said intervention; and in the instance where the mediator or human resource professional does not offer the space for each party to speak their portion (Tehrani, 2012).

Code of Conduct

Bullying is one of the “toxins” human resource personnel are expected to manage and resolve. Addressing complaints is essential to both resolving the immediate situation and to decrease the likelihood of future cases (Catley et al., 2017). Therefore, it is vitally important to implement a strong code of conduct that all employees must follow to produce a productive work environment. Implementing a zero-tolerance policy for workers who bully will make a bold statement that all workers must be respected. Setting a strict code of conduct must prevent workplace bullying and enforce an intervention if a public manager or employee witnesses an unprofessional interaction. Specific behavioral code of conduct must follow a rule of high integrity, objectivity, professional competence, confidentiality, and professional behavior. Interpersonal interactions can be distinguished from typical workplace communication and workplace bullying. Including emotional intelligence as part of the code of conduct will ensure that all employees have a strong level of competence while communicating with co-workers.

Navigating workplace relationships requires a level of mutual understanding and respect that must be mandated by the code of conduct. Employees must learn to work together in a peaceful work environment that can promote the inclusion of innovative ideas and opportunities. Professional responsibilities regarding their own behaviors will require effective control by management to oversee internal relationship obstacles that the unit and organization face. Development of a healthy and safe culture in the workplace can nurture workplace relationships, to be kind, compassionate and to be aware of how others might be feeling (Manchester, 2017).

Included in the code of conduct should be a clear definition of workplace bullying and what constitutes bullying. This would be helpful in the event of employee complaints on bullying behavior, as it would help determine what bullying criteria is met (Tehrani, 2012). The consequences of bullying should be additionally outlined, so there would be clear repercussions for those negative actions. Standard practice for mediation techniques should be included in the code of conduct, to discern helpful from unhelpful insertion in a bullying situation. This should outline which authoritative individuals are qualified to mediate bullying disputes, as well as best practices for facilitating said mediation. The following two stages should be included in the mediation process: an individual meeting, where each individual in the bullying scenario meets with the mediator separately and the problem is identified; and a joint meeting, where each individual displays their desired outcome of the mediation (Tehrani, 2012). During the individual meeting, each employee is offered the opportunity to expand upon their side of the story, which aids in the identification and externalization of the issue (Tehrani, 2012). Externalizing aids the employees to see the potential conflict from a third party perspective, which helps see the problem as the issue, from an objective standpoint, rather than each individual as the issue (Tehrani, 2012). Through this process, the primary dialogues surrounding and supporting the issue are identified and brought to attention and mediating the relationship between the employees involved can begin (Tehrani, 2012). Through this process, each employee has the opportunity to express how they would like their professional relationship with one another to progress following this incident (Tehrani, 2012). There is additional support from the mediator of the situation, as they grant each employee the opportunity to stop the mediation process if it becomes too difficult (Tehrani, 2012). During the joint meeting process, where both employees meet together with the mediator, the mediator navigates the process and importance of the expectations of each employee and identify the obstacles that may be preventing reconciliation (Tehrani, 2012). The history of the issues between the employees are traced during this process and when the conflict began is identified (Tehrani, 2012). Additionally in the code of conduct should be a clear definition of cyberbullying, as it is typically not included in workplace bullying polices, and it should be handled through the same mediating and repercussive process as general workplace bullying practices.



The Grievance Process

The grievance investigation process must follow an official submission of a grievance form and personal statement submitted to the human resource management department of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. An internal investigation by the human resource management department consisting of a committee of professional public managers within the FDEP. The panel must first determine if the grievance has facial sufficiency and notify the complainant. Once facial sufficiency is determined an investigator must be appointed to the grievance case and make an initial assessment for reprimands based on the allegations. Upon the investigators' initial assessment, the grievance committee will make the final decisions for the complaint and the defendant.

Certain workplace bullying reprimands could include suspension from work without pay, sanctions that require restitution or new training on the workplace code of conduct. Suspension can be based on the investigator and committee’s degree of grievance validity. The facial sufficiency of the allegations will determine the type of punishment for the bully. Policies on the level of severe punishment must be written within the guidelines of the grievance procedure. For example, 90-day (about 3 months) suspension from work can be a result of proven verbal or written workplace harassment with multiple suspects. If the suspended employee was involved in an incident but found not culpable during the investigation, the employer should inform them of any expectations moving forward. There may be a future performance-based plan that should be documented. Detailed documentation of the reasons for the suspension and the results of the investigation must be used to prevent future workplace bullying.

Implementing a workplace grievance policy that helps employees feel respected and understood by public managers can help retain hardworking employees and promote job security. Individual employees must have the ability to express their concerns about workplace bullying and harassment to rebuild a peaceful and productive workplace environment. Identifying the hazards of workplace bullying will help public managers make appropriate intervention tactics for teams that have workers at-risk of harassment or bullying. Organizational normative must make employees feel assertive about explaining their self-monitored emotions to a human resource manager. The human resource manager's position is to calm the situation and prevent further emotional damages a workplace bullying harassment claim can cause.

Teams that have significant bullying concerns may need changes in management, communication, or policy to account for unproductive work development. Team-building days can help workgroups overcome the division that allegations and grievance investigations into bullying or harassment have caused (Jenkins, 2013). Debriefing after a workplace grievance investigation can determine the future policy implementations, conflict resolution skills, promote team cohesion, increase resilience, or help teams manage significant changes. It is vitally important that all members of the team are prepared for the next steps after grievance investigation to ensure the proper workplace productivity is continued.


Conclusion

The solutions to workplace bullying require the organization’s commitment to ethical climate types and significant attention to employee behavior. Emphasizing an ethical climate dimension for organizations, this human resource analysis recommends a strategy to reduce bullying behavior and to increase organizational commitment. Main objectives to reduce bullying behavior is to create a dissolution of aggressiveness in the workplace and identify bullying as an extreme form of stress (Bulutlar, & Oz, E. U, 2009). Practical training in stress management can enhance the employee's ability to cope with the demands of work life and increase employee commitment, job satisfaction, productivity, and efficiency. Additionally beneficial would be assertiveness training, which would increase an employee’s ability to stand up for themselves, in a respectful way, in the situation of a bullying event. Necessary personnel, such as human resource managers and confidential mediators, should be identified and appropriately trained on the impacts they have on addressing workplace bullying behaviors. Their effectiveness additionally relies on their understanding of the psychological and physiological implications of bullying. The organization's commitment to solving workplace bullying creates new affective, continuance and normative commitment to employee job satisfaction. Defining the code of conduct for employee behavior ensures that employees have a professional understanding of how they are expected to interact with coworkers and managers. The grievance process helps human resource managers to conduct workplace bullying investigations based on the allegations. Human resource managers must maintain a level of supervisory suppose that can be vital to the workplace which includes instrumental, emotional, informational and appraisal of teams. Social support “buffers” individuals from the destructive effects of stress (Bulutlar, & Oz, E. U., 2009). Buffers can be people that are assertive with their communication style but are able to add relief to the stress of coworkers or manager. When dealing with workplace bullying human resource managers must determine passive, assertive, and aggressive employee communication styles. Passive employees might find themselves being victims of workplace bullying or trying to avoid being directly involved if they notice another employee being bullied. Assertive employees are people that are direct and upfront about their opinions on certain issues and can come across as too dominant in a conversation. Assertive employees are punctual yet must maintain a level of equal communication to expand their ideas. Aggressive employees are individuals who are more likely to be responsible for the complaints in a workplace confrontation. Aggressive employees show their dominance but can come across as rude or impolite that disrupts the other employees. Human resource managers have a clear responsibility to listen to the different communication styles of employees and determine the correct leadership direction for the organization.



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